Monday, February 25, 2013

Diving In

Sylvia wants to see the Victoria Train Station and to Crawford market, so we reserve a car for 6 (Syl, Tim, Wally, Jill, guide and driver) for the morning.  But since it’s India, our big car has been taken by someone else (reservation? We don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no stinkin’ reservation!).  I bitch, they wait us out, so we are put in two cars and we dive into chaos, cars clearing each other by inches, decrepit three-wheeled tuk-tuks rattling by, squeezing between huge brightly painted falling apart buses - all with horns blaring.   If you can't lean on the horn repeatedly for the duration of the ride, you lose your license.  Truck are even marked on the back. "Horn Please!" 

Victoria Station is a huge messy falling-down confection of elaborately detailed cast iron columns with a huge dusty sky-light that runs the length, and landing platforms stretching into the distance.  Barefoot men pushing dripping carts of fish on ice in round baskets hiss at us - their way of saying "coming thru".

As we walk toward a platform we can see a train approaching - there are no doors, and there are people hanging out of the place where the doors should be.

Sharmila, our guide,  gently herds us to the side as a massive wave of humanity breaks over us.  

We huddle against a dusty cast-iron pillar.  Within minutes three trains have docked (no other word for it), and commuters in suits, women in saris and vendors in rags with baskets on their heads or lumpy sacks under their arms flow by.  

The trains are meant to hold fifteen hundred, but five thousand crowd on.  On each train.  Of fifteen cars.  You do the math.

Those who are hanging out the doorway and have nothing to hold on to (no strap, no bar) are held in by those behind.  As Sharmila says, some days you are behind the bar, some days you are in front.  In Mumbai, there is aways someone there to help take care of you, because you never know when you will be the one without a strap.  We agree that there’s always someone there, but not too sure about the taking care part.  Mostly they’re trying to sell you something. 

On the way to lunch at  Khyber we stop to see the depa-wallas, or as we call them the tiffin-wallas.  Indian women make a hot lunch for their husbands, who have taken the early train, alas, before lunch was ready.  One tiffin walla collects the lunch from the homes, and goes to the train station where the tiffins (tall round tin lunch boxes) are sorted by which train station in Mumbai is closest to their destination.  Onto the train with another tiffin-walla, where on arrival they are sorted again, then hung from hooks on a bicycle rack and delivered to the offices.  Then they’re collected, sorted and sent home, and the whole thing starts all over again tomorrow.  

The small chalk-marks on top are the only identifiers: no laundry tag, no computers.  Yet three hundred thousand tiffin-wallas move millions of tiffins each day.  

Crawford Market is the main fruit and vegetable market downtown.  No Safeway, no Costco.   In the dirt parking lot of men walk with huge flat baskets on their heads.  They are the shopping carts.  You hire one - he follows you and puts your purchases in his head basket, then loads them into your car.

A dozen different kinds of guavas, half a dozen different bananas.  

Birds, puppies and kittens (too sad)

Candy and toothpaste, baskets and handbags.  And a gazillion kinds of curries and spices.  

One young handbag vendor takes a fancy to us - 

...and follows Tim thru the market, her price getting lower as we approach the exit.  Wally finally buys a bag for a tenth her original asking price.  It has a thin gauze bottom and plastic beads, but it is sparkly and it makes her day.  And her smile makes ours.

1 comment:

  1. I found this tiffin distribution fascinating -- discussed it at work today with my Indian friend who went to India for the first time over the holidays with her new husband.